Animation History
April 15, 2024 posted by Jerry Beck

Covering “Woody Woodpecker”

Last month I posted about the surprising number of cover versions there were for “The Mickey Mouse Club March”. The positive reaction to that post had me considering covers of other such songs that emenate from animated cartoons. Could this be the beginning of a new series… I don’t know. But it’s fun to think about.

Beyond the mega hit “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” from the blockbuster short Three Little Pigs (1933) – or perhaps “Der Furher’s Face” in 1942 – a popular song making its initial appearance in a cartoon short was a rarity beyond the walls of the Disney studio. For the record (no pun intended), Pat Boone’s 1962 novelty hit Speedy Gonzales was never in an actual Warner Bros cartoon – despite Mel Blanc doing the character voice on the 45rpm single; while The Archies “Sugar, Sugar” was indeed a bonafide hit that originated from a cartoon – a Saturday morning Filmation show, for goodness sake!.

The Woody Woodpecker Song was indeed based on the Walter Lantz cartune star – in fact, it was written by two musicians in Lantz’ house orchestra. It became the first song from a cartoon short (Wet Blanket Policy) to ever be nominated for the Academy Award (for “Best Song” 1948) and was number #1 on the Billboard magazine “Hit Parade” for many weeks that year. The song was also the basis for a lawsuit between Mel Blanc (for his unique laugh) and Lantz – which ended amicably.

Here’s the original 1948 recording that started it all…

Here’s Mel Blanc’s own recording the following year (with The Sportsmen, his colleagues from The Jack Benny Show):

Also from 1948, this delightful cover by Danny Kaye and The Andrews Sisters.

Of course it was covered on kiddie records. Pinky and Perky were Britain’s version of The Chipmunks – marionette-puppet piggies with sped-up voices, who fronted their own kids show in England from 1957 through 1971.

This is only 49 seconds, but it’s by Lothar And The Hand People – a late-1960s psychedelic rock band known for its experimental electronic music stylings. I dig it.

The most recent cover is by vibraphonist Steve Hobbs in 2009. Jazzy, cool, easy on the ears – everything the later theatrical Woody cartoons are not.


  • What a cool post to start the week! This is so great. I wonder why Warner Bros. characters didn’t have such a run of great tunes throughout their cartoons. I know there was a double CD released of soundtracks to the Warner Brothers cartoons, but never concentrating on certain key songs that appeared in Warner Brothers cartoons. This is possibly because the songs that appeared in the earliest Warner Bros. cartoons were actually hit records. I’m talking about songs actually related to the characters, aside from the speedy Gonzalez song that we’re all too familiar with. We’re just thinking of the animated, cartoon character themes that were kind of jazzy but never quite stuck. I’m thinking of the bizarre opening theme to most of the “hop Hooper” cartoons. I think of what our Rangers could do with the basic “mighty mouse“ theme. Anyway, I look forward to any future posts in this vein.

  • Walter Lantz claimed that the Woody Woodpecker laugh was based on a bugle call, and like most things Lantz said in his long lifetime this claim is disputed by many animation historians. Be that as it may, it’s true that the laugh is identical to the first five notes of the six-note bugle call normally followed by yelling “Charge!” (not to be confused with the “Charge” bugle call formerly used by the U. S. Cavalry.) Since the bugle lacks the valves of a trumpet or cornet, the different notes of the melody can be obtained only by altering the tension of the lips. When I was in music school, it was common for brass players to warm up by playing “The Woody Woodpecker Song”. Apparently it serves that purpose well.

    At the climax of the first movement of Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 in D-flat major, Opus 30, the horns play four iterations of a fanfare that, in shape and rhythm, precisely echoes the Woody Woodpecker laugh. Orchestra musicians invariably break out laughing the first time they play through the passage in rehearsal. Hanson composed this symphony in 1930, so its similarity to the cartoon song is entirely coincidental.

    Two other things I can’t resist sharing about Howard Hanson: First, if you’ve seen the 1979 movie “Alien”, you’ve heard his music; the main theme from his Second Symphony plays during the closing credits. (My girlfriend and I walked out of the theatre laughing our heads off at that.) Second, Hanson was a big, burly man with a moustache and goatee, and later in his life he was often mistaken for singer Burl Ives.

    • You can hear the beginnings of Woody’s laugh in “Porky’s Hare Hunt” and “Hare-Um Scare-Um”. That “bugle call” story is just wishful thinking (or Lantz trying to get around Mel Blanc’s lawyers).

      On a Golden Orchestra record, there’s another cover of the Woody Woodpecker song, where Grace Stafford’s Woody laugh is badly dubbed in, and the music stops, then starts again when Woody’s laugh finishes.

  • The original Pinky and Perky Show ran a lot longer – from 1957 until 1971.

    • Duly noted and corrected. Thank you!

  • Is Winnie aware of the cover art to that sheet music? The next time she sees Woody, she might tell him “That’s right, you’re wrong!”

    A fun collection of covers with rather more range than I would have expected of the song, and while Mel’s version is IMO the truest to the spirit of the old Woody Woodpecker cartoons, I can understand why Kay Kyser’s release was the big hit. C’mon, chillun! Le’s dance!

  • The recording I grew up with featured a very bizarre sound representing the Woody Woodpecker laugh. It didn’t sound anything like Woody, but it was the only recording of the song that we had. If was on a little record that also included an instrumental “Woodpecker Dance” –if I remember correctly. Later I heard this same recording re-used on a Woody Woodpecker album but with the Woody laugh of Grace Stafford inserted where the rather strange laugh had been. It was clear it was an insert as opposed to a re-recording because the instrumentals would halt every time the laugh occurred, yet even with that minor defect it was an improvement.

    Of the recordings shared above, I had only heard the Gloria Wood version before. The rest of these postings are new to me. Delightful, and nice to know it continues into the twenty-first century.

    • To Frederick Wiegand: It might have been a Little Golden Record version you had. Woody’s laugh was performed on that as “ca-ca-ca-cackle.” Could that have been the one?

      In 1964, the Baja Marimba Band recorded a Dixieland-influenced version of “Woody.” Herb Alpert and Baja leader Julius Wechter arranged the session. Here’s a link to listen:

      • It was definitely the Little Golden version you and another blogger above are talking about. The small “single” version not only used a strange laugh, but added deliberate electronic echo over it to a point of making it metallic with squeaking reverb.

        When they produced the LP in the mid 60’s (I would date it approximately 1964 or 65, due to its use of tunes written for “Stowaway Woody” and “Fractured Friendship”, plus inclusion of the Inspector Willoughby and Beary Family themes), it would have seemed jarring to use the old recording side-by-side with Grace’s vocals, but Grace had already re-recorded the song for Decca records (a version which was omitted from this post), so someone decided not to have her re-perform it a second time, and just cut her laugh into the old Mitch Miller and the Sandpipers version.

        The LP’s best feature may be Grace’s vocal performance of the second Woody Woodpecker theme, “Wackity Woody” (the up-tempo piece heard from around 1963 through the end of the theatrical series), the only commercial recording of the song I know. Someone should have included that cut here to round out Woody’s history in theme songs.

        Here’s a Youtube post of the “Wackity Woody” song:

        Grace’s Decca version of “The Woody Woodpecker Song” (a little wet from stereo enhancement) is at:

  • One of my favorite toon tunes right here! Jerry, did the diddy “Everybody Thinks I’m Crazy” ever get any sort of cover (other than the Eric Bauza version in the 2017 film)?

  • Was there no cover for “What’s Up, Doc” from the cartoon of the same name? You’d think that would have given “The Woody Woodpecker Song” a run for its money. I’d still guess “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man” is the best known toon tune.

  • Probably worth a mention, but Frank Zappa quoted the song a few times in his career, the example being at the end of the song “Tinsel Town Rebellion” where it’s played on kazoo.

  • The Beach Boys also joined in with a song on their 1967 Smiley Smile album. The instrumental “Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (Woody Woodpecker Symphony)” is not exactly a cover but has that recognizable Woody theme on it.

  • Then there’s Bill Evans’ version of Little Lulu:

  • Man they really pitched Mel’s voice to high. It sounds more like Alvin singing.

  • I recall Joe Piscopo — as Frank Sinatra — including the song in a medley in an SNL Gumby sketch.

    • Why stop with Joe Piscopo? Cranky Franky absolutely despised the song, but when it hit number one, his contract with “Your Hit Parade” (radio show) demanded he sing it on the broadcast. So he did, and here ’tis.

  • “The Woody Woodpecker Song” isn’t just the first song from a cartoon short to be nominated for an Oscar — it’s the only one. In fact, it can’t happen again under current Academy rules, since only songs from feature-length films are eligible for the Best Song award.

  • I work at a TV station in NYC- one known for showing Popeye, The Little Rascals, Adventures of Superman, The Three Stooges, etc, back in the 60s. Anyway when I started here in the 1980s, one of my functions was on air playback of news stories when everything was on tape. We had an audio guy with a great sense of humor. Whenever the anchors made a mistake or something went wrong on the broadcast, he would do a spot on imitation of the Woody laugh over the headsets that only the techies could hear. STILL makes me laugh to this day thinking of how funny it was. When I need a laugh I go to youtube and one of those Woody laugh compilations, and it never fails to crack me up

  • ̶̶M̶̶i̶̶s̶̶s̶ ̶M̶̶e̶̶a̶̶n̶̶y̶ Mr. and Mrs. Meany

    The house at 207 Denver Street is still there, 75 years later.,-81.4918988,3a,38.6y,132.16h,94.35t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sAEAD1mNLGcI5Pa9nKEToAg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?entry=ttu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *